weivern.com Bit by Bit, Putting it Together


The Christmas Dinner Medley

T-2: prelude to siu yoke

We begin with the preparation of the Siu Yoke (roast pork).  This year I’m trying a slightly different method – the so-called fool-proof-non-poking-salt-crust technique hasn’t been as successful as claimed last year, so I decided to look around a bit more for more classic ways. I’m caught in between the Boomers and the Gen-Z’s – I have experienced the transition between 56k dial-up to lightspeed broadband, and monochromatic brick phones that last for weeks to slim touchscreen devices that last for hours. I want things fast, I love shortcuts – both using and inventing them.  But Uncle Lau and Aunty Liew have taught me that sometimes, one can’t skip steps.  One needs to poke those holes. One needs to dehydrate that meat (for 24 to 48 hours).  One needs to wait patiently for that crackle to form.

Apparently dousing the skin with vinegar and baking soda to quicken/enhance the crackling process is unnecessary because too much of that leaves a poor aftertaste on the skin; if one has had enough to taste the difference, such as years of accumulated trauma and mistakes. I turned 35 barely a week ago, keeping things simple is the ultimate goal now.

Meat blanched, holes poked, marinade slathered – I shove the slab of meat into the refrigerator and pray to the Siu Yoke gods.  It feels symbolic.  Like the last email I sent at work the week before and not barely checking my inbox since. Not a single email replied.  The world will still spin, and work will still be there when I get back. And this pork belly will dehydrate and be ready for roasting in 48 hours.

Making Siu Yoke is all about listening to strangers and trusting the process.  Just like 2023.


“We will start you on an 8-cycle chemo treatment, and on the halfway mark, we will run another PET scan to check your progress,” the oncologist drew the same diagram she did three years ago. She printed out a copy of a list of possible side effects of the drugs, which mom would later Google on her own and freak herself out.  She would get opinions from her friends.  She would then ask the onco the same questions again and again, partly seeking validation, partly hoping for a different answer.

Life became both certain and uncertain in 2023.  This part was certain: our schedules were split into 3-week cycles; 2 weeks chemo + 1 week rest.  I scheduled working in office and at home days according to caregiving duties. The uncertainty lies at the start of each cycle dictating how the rest of the 3 weeks would look like (i.e. if cancer markers went up/down, any change in treatment regime, energy /mood levels and side effects, etc.).  We felt immensely grateful for a job that allowed me to be flexible in terms of where and when I work, and for co-caregivers who would offer to step in whenever I was unavailable. 

As of now, mom has gone through two sets of treatments, the latest regime being quite effective in keeping the cancer at bay and allowing us to spend another Christmas together.  Side effects are adding up, and there are more decisions to be made ahead, but we take our wins where we can.


T-1: The Formation of Key Lime Pie

Last minute groceries for all things dessert and drinks. A big bag of key limes.  A couple cans of condensed milk (but I only needed one).  Whipping cream.  But oh! Let’s try another brand this time.  Feeling a little fancy, I glance past the usual Paul’s and reach for a box of Paysan Breton instead.  It has been a consistent season of change; this key lime pie should get on with the program.   But some things cannot change – like Hobnobs digestives. It’s the only digestives I’ll use for my pie crust. You don’t get the same kind of creamy bite from other brands.  There’s a fine line between trying new things and not fixing what isn’t broken.

The pie crust and curd can be made ahead of time.  Release the year’s frustrations by crushing the digestives (the recipe asks for 10 pieces, I always put 12), then soothe the remaining angst by stirring in the golden slurry of 85g of salted butter and a 2 tbsp of honey (this year we have some from Provence).  Once done spreading and compressing it over the pie pan, lick the gooey crumbly mixture off the spoon.  It’s my favourite part.

Next, the curd.  A can of condensed milk, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, four large egg yolks, half a cup of lime juice, and a teaspoon lime zest. It takes a bag of limes to yield half a cup of lime juice. I had gone rock climbing in the morning and my fingers are struggling to keep up. Just. One. More. Lime. I tell myself. Do not discard the limes immediately! Grate a teaspoon of lime zest to be added into the curd mix and keep the rest in a zip lock bag for more fresh zest as garnish the next day.

Once the pie crust is baked and cooled, pour in the curd mix and put it back into the oven for another 10 minutes.  The pie is ready to join the marinating pork belly in the refrigerator (but keep them separate to avoid contamination).  We will whip the fancy cream tomorrow before serving.

I take a look at the drinks station. They’ll do. I clean up the kitchen and turn off the lights.


The right things aren’t always easy, but they can be.  The first quarter of the year saw me making big decisions with eyes wide open (and so did the last quarter, but we’ll get to that later), including walking out of long-term relationships that could no longer meet me in the middle.  As a chronic people-pleaser, it was one of the most difficult things I had to do – in fact it took a long time to came to that decision and summon the due courage.  Alas, I was surprised by the sheer peace I felt and the sense of relief that followed – and that was enough to validate all the doubts I had.  That said, people cross paths for a reason.  There were plenty of good times and lessons to remember, honour and be grateful for – they made me the person that I am today.  We thank the past and we move on. 

Growth is scary, long, and abrupt like that. 

I started reading more fiction this year without feeling guilty.  Yellowface and Babel by R.F. Kuang top my 2023 fiction reading list, whilst The Last Girl by Nadia Murad was a very memorable non-fiction recount.  I bought shoes I liked. I got myself a climbing membership. I invested in self-care.  I carved out intentional me-time.  I learned how to set healthy boundaries with others and myself (and boundaries are supposed to be uncomfortable). 

Growth can also look like shrinking sometimes.

My social media circle was reduced by more than half – I’d be kidding myself if I thought 800+ people actually cared about me (and me, them).   I learn to move/clear my calendar so I can be more present with my loved ones.  I reach out to old friends that I have missed.  I make new ones that count.  I can live with imperfections.  I take time off from work to rest, even if I wasn’t going anywhere. 

I’m not closing doors, just making room and showing up when it matters.


T-0: Gravy, MASH, Chicken, Fish – and (failed) Yorkshire Pudding

I should have started on the mushrooms last night, I think to myself as I slice 3 boxes of Swiss mushrooms for the gravy. But that’s okay, there is plenty of time while we wait for the pork belly to reach room temperature, and the chicken and fish to thaw.  Mushrooms are counter-productive ingredients to cook, by the way.  You can’t crowd them else they won’t brown, but at the same time, they shrink to less than half their original size when cooked.  But for the sake of holy gravy, we persist.

My mental spreadsheet has (kind of) worked out the roasting intervals that will leave me plenty of time to do all the in-betweens such as gravy and mash. In fact, I even managed to squeeze in a 15-minute nap.  Just slightly after noon, the Siu Yoke has crackled, and the chicken has been roasted and both are resting comfortably.

Rae shows up early with cheese and baguette to help out – and by helping out she keeps mom company and reminds me to not panic about the fish.  Rae is family now, like a lot of my friends are.  I wouldn’t have made it through very challenging times if it wasn’t for the tribe that rallies on with me.  So I pass Rae a fork and ask her to mash the boiled russet potatoes.  She glares at me as if I had asked her to whip cream with a hand whisk (which she did, seven Christmases ago in London).  She does it anyway, with much more ease than expected.  Do not skimp on the vegan butter, I say, as I scoop almost half the box into the mash.  And salt.  Always salt.  Eddy arrives with a second baton of baguette.

We keep things dairy-free as much as we can for mom, which includes the herb butter for the chicken and the fish.  Rosemary, parsley, garlic, and sage for the first; and dill, parsley, and garlic for the latter.  Stuff both with lemon.  The fish is so big it can barely fit into the oven. I chuckle to myself as its head threatens to push the oven door open.  Not today, I say.

Unfortunately, the Yorkshire pudding isn’t working out. The muffin pans I have are not heating up quickly enough and the batter isn’t rising as it should be.  Ah well, you win some, you lose some.  The guests will just have to make do with the baguettes.


“My Duolingo streak ended as soon as it started so I’m not sure where that gets me,” was my opening line to a stranger.  I had no idea what I was doing, except to be frank.  Lucky for me, that sheer honesty was well acknowledged, and the conversation snowballed quite quickly from there.  Can heavy topics, let alone with a stranger, ever be easy?  Apparently so.  

The last quarter of the year has been sort of a whirlwind.  I started to write again, rekindled an old love for origami, scarily and intentionally opened doors that were closed (or hidden) for a long time, learned to listen to myself (and others) and discerned truth from noise.  I am learning to embrace the magic of being present in the moment instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop (or creating an imaginary shoe because of inherent self-sabotaging behaviours) and reminding myself that I deserve to be happy. 

Because the other shoe will drop.  Shit will hit the fan. Life will suck at some (and many) point(s).  The right ones will stay (and they have).  Those who matter will want to figure life out with us as much as we do with them.  Put in the right ingredients, disregard the unnecessary ones.  It’s okay if the ratio is a little off sometimes. 

That skin will crackle and even if that salt crust fell and made that Siu Yoke a little saltier than you’d like it, half the plate would be gone before the party has really started.  

That mushroom gravy will burn a little because you forgot to turn off the fire – nothing a little bit of salt (and carefully avoiding the burnt bottom) can’t fix.  

You will barely have the chance to taste that ginormous baked fish or that roasted chicken, but there will be someone who sees you and finds the opportunity to feed you a piece or two just so you can taste the fruits of your labour (and maintain some kind of sobriety with that perpetual glass of gin and tonic that occupies your right hand).  The same person you would search for in the crowd again, and again. And again. 

There will still be enough food (and carbs) even if the Yorkshire puddings didn’t make it – your friends will contribute baguettes and two trays of delicious Mi Siam to the table, and you will have leftovers.

That fancy whipping cream will hold even if you were just winging the amount of icing sugar that went into it because the entire pie will be finished before it has the chance to melt.   

Your guest list will change, you can’t accommodate everyone, and some won’t be able to make it at the last minute (and even better, some will!).  The most privileged problem you will have every year is figuring out how to make more room and cook more food. 

And when the day is done, when everyone has gone home, and the night is quiet; the most important people in your life will stay up with you way past midnight until the last piece of cutlery is washed.  One of them will get married in a couple days’ time, and the other will stay.  You will be awfully tired, your heart will be bursting at its seams, and you will be goddamn grateful (and in disbelief) to have someone to call the night with and wake up to the next morning.  The right things aren’t always easy, but they can be – if we allow them.

Because before you know it, the next Christmas dinner will be here and if you’re lucky, you wouldn’t have it any other way.  


weivern.com Bit by Bit, Putting it Together